This is probably going to be an unpopular take, but it’s the truth, and you need to hear it: sitting is bad for you. Yes – that thing you do every day for hours and hours on end is actually horrible for your body.
Some of you may already be aware of this. Others might be reading and saying to themselves, “That’s ridiculous. If it’s so bad, why do so many people do it all the time?” The answer is as simple as they get: because it is comfortable.
That comfort, however, is eventually going to cause you problems – if it hasn’t already. But why?
Tight hip flexors
The hip flexors are one of the most vital muscle complexes in your entire body. The hip flexors are comprised of all the muscles in the upper and inner thighs, as well as the pelvic region, and they really do so many things; in fact, they are the driving force behind nearly every movement we perform. Think of it this way – you wouldn’t be able to walk, let alone bend over or even raise your leg, without your hip flexors. It is for that reason alone that you need to keep them healthy, loose, and strong. Sitting, unfortunately, promotes none of this.
To understand why, we need to understand flexion and extension. Flexion is what happens when a muscle contracts, while extension is what happens when it relaxes. When we sit, our hips are in a constantly flexed position, and this is bad for two big reasons:
- Keeping those hips in constant flexion makes them extremely tight, which not only limits our flexibility but also forces the body to recruit other smaller synergistic muscles to perform the duties our hip flexors should be performing. Over time, these smaller muscles become too overwhelmed to adequately handle these extra loads, and so something in the system finally “breaks,” leading to hip and lower back injuries.
- There’s this thing called reciprocal inhibition, which is basically a fancy way of saying that when one muscle contracts, the opposite must relax (i.e., when you flex your biceps, your triceps must relax. Otherwise, the action wouldn’t be possible. Go ahead, try it yourself). Well, if our hip flexors are so tight and flexed from constantly sitting, then the opposite muscles, like the glutes, can never contract to the best of their ability – even when we’re trying our absolute hardest to do so. This presents major problems when we go to perform functional movements like the squat, where a contraction of the glutes is vital. Otherwise, the body is again forced to recruit other synergistic muscles, like the piriformis, to do the things the glutes are supposed to be doing, and eventually… well, you get the drift.
When we sit, especially at a desk, our bodies tend to hunch forward. Why? One reason is that our arms are rested in front of us. The second is that the body is relaxed, and – at least for most people – their pectoral region is stronger and/or heavier than their scapula.
Over time, this hunched position takes a heavy toll on our bodies. Our necks migrate forward, our backs start to round, and eventually, our bodies begin to take on a C shape, rather than the L position we’re meant to maintain while seated. This C shape leads to an unbelievable amount of chronic pain throughout the entire body – all of which can be avoided if we are actually activating our bodies for more than the hour we spend working out in the gym (if we even spend any time in there at all).
Poor blood circulation
In order for your body to function and recovery from everything you do, fresh and oxygenated blood must be circulated throughout the body. Standing better allows blood to flow through your body, especially when you’re sitting for long periods of time.
When you sit for hours on end, your arteries – specifically in the legs – constrict. This constriction impedes blood flow, which weakens your metabolism (and this happens due to the lack of blood your heart and brain receive due to the blood pooling in your legs). The constriction of your arteries also raises blood pressure, and can even contribute to the development of heart disease. In short: sitting too often and for too long at a time can literally kill you. As dramatic as that sounds, it’s true.
Now look, am I telling you to never sit? No. That would be ridiculous. However, you should really try to limit the amount of time you’re lounging on your butt when possible, and if you have no other choice, consider using an exercise ball, lower back support, or even try alternating between standing and sitting. Standing desks are all the rage for 8-5 workers nowadays, so join the club and get your body back to feeling and moving the way it’s supposed to.
For more advice on how to better your physical and emotional self, check out the other fit tips from Frankie.